How Cities Can Acquire Free Land to House and Serve Homeless People

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This webinar on April 25 will discuss the release of a toolkit with information about how to identify and successfully apply for vacant federal properties that can be used to help the homeless in your city.

One largely untapped resource for addressing homelessness and the affordable housing crisis is vacant federal property. (Getty Images)

Cities across the country are struggling with rising housing costs and shrinking federal supports, leaving millions of people homeless or at risk, including a record 1.4 million children of school age. With city budgets stretched to their limits, it is critical that local governments make full use of all available resources — and vacant federal property is a largely untapped resource.

The federal government is the largest single owner of real estate in the nation. Every year, the federal government determines that thousands of properties — including warehouses, office buildings and vacant land — are no longer needed. When such a determination is made, a federal program authorized under Title V of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides local governments and nonprofit organizations with the right of first refusal to these properties to serve homeless people. Better yet, these properties are transferred to eligible homeless service providers for free.

Approximately 500 buildings and nearly 900 acres of land have been transferred to cities and other eligible homeless service providers in more than 30 states under Title V, with over two million people served each year. Federal surplus property is used to create emergency shelters, transitional housing for domestic violence survivors, and permanent supportive housing for mentally ill veterans, in addition to office and warehouse space.

Recently, the law was amended to clarify that surplus federal properties can be used for permanent housing with or without supportive services. This important clarification to the law will allow cities access to millions of dollars in federal real property assets to reduce or even end homelessness in a sustainable and cost-effective way — without paying for title to the properties.

On April 25, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) will release a toolkit with information about how to identify and successfully apply for properties under Title V and will host a webinar to discuss the toolkit at 2:00 p.m. EDT. You can register for the webinar here. The toolkit will be available on the NLCHP website.

(NLCHP)

About the author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter @HarigBlaine.